You IM, I archive

Business pressures are compelling enterprises to document and archive communication via new tools such as instant messaging, industry observers say.

Whether it is done in the name of corporate governance or for future use as legal evidence, there are now more business reasons for enterprises to archive communication via new media such as instant messaging (IM) and voice over IP (VoIP).

According to Gilbert Leong, partner at legal firm Rodyk & Davidson, companies traditionally do not keep communication records such as telephone conversations the same way they do with financial documents.

Businesses may or may not be legally compelled to archive IM messages, said Leong, but the more important issue is whether companies "want to be in a position to have [information] 'on record' and refute [litigious] claims".

Low Li Kiang, solutions director for the Asia-Pacific region at Hitachi Data Systems, noted that, increasingly, organizations are more aware of the legal implications of not being able to produce documents or information when summoned by the courts.

Low added that to avoid incurring heavy fines as well as protect their brand and reputation, companies tend to "keep more than less".

Corporate governance and the dependence on information as legal insurance may not be the only compelling factors driving the archival of IM in enterprises.

Archive it right

Did you know?
The law takes into account whether one has the evidence and what is the best form of evidence, according to legal practitioners.
Archiving e-mail, IM or VoIP messages without prior consent may seem offensive, but it is not illegal.

Bottom line:
Enterprises should inform employees that IM messages are archived, and one way to do this is to state it outright in the employment contract. Companies should establish clear, written policies and security procedures that their staff must adhere to.
Employees and IM users should be judicious about how they treat e-mail, IM or VoIP messages and ensure these are properly archived. Employers should also not abuse the use of information recorded from such communications.

Kathleen Phillips, regional director for North Asia at compliance management solutions provider AXS-One, said the company has brokerage customers in the Asia-Pacific region that not only archive e-mail but chat messages as well, to encompass the entire process of business transactions.

"We are already hearing of brokers in this region receiving trade confirmations via SMS (short message service), and many organizations currently require the confirmation be [reproduced] in writing through e-mail or IM, which is archived as part of the trade transaction," said Phillips.

According to Bjorn Engelhardt, Symantec's director for enterprise messaging management in the Asia-Pacific and Japan, said some companies in Australia are using IM within the organization to set performance targets and negotiate pay raises.

HDS' Low added that some organizations archive IM messages to retain discussions about projects, while others use IM as a knowledge repository for information-sharing within the organization.

There are no figures to suggest that more companies are archiving IM communications, but Christopher Low, director of PenduLab, told ZDNet Asia in an e-mail that he has been receiving more queries on managed enterprise IM, which allows for IM monitoring. PenduLab is an enterprise software company offering products such as Chat Blazer Enterprise IM.

According to PenduLab's Low, enterprises that engage in IM archival need to do so with the employees' knowledge of its employees rather than on the sly. Enterprises should make clear the policies regarding the use of IM, for example, by stating the terms and conditions in the employment contract.

Beyond IM archival
AXS-One's Phillips pointed out that the concept of digital data archiving is "nothing new", although the tools workers used to conduct business transactions have evolved. The entire process could involve Microsoft's Word documents, Adobe's PDF files, and correspondences in the form of e-mail, telephone calls or instant messages.

As each method of communication evolves to become more widely used for business purposes, enterprises will become more receptive to the practice of archiving such data, said Phillips. She added: "As the use of corporate blogs becomes more popular, I am certain we will begin to see an increase in the requirement to store this digital data for litigation readiness, as well."

"Every organization should step back and take a holistic look at their business practices, out of which they should be able to determine the components of business transactions which are required to be categorized, archived, retained and ultimately, deleted for litigation readiness and in accordance with statutory and/or regulatory compliance," she said.